Paving the way with beach access mats

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SOUTH WALTON, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - One Walton County beach access will soon have a new look.

County officials are paving the way to make beach access easier for everyone.

"Right now we have purchased approximately 160 feet of this access matting," said Walton County TDC Beach Maintenance Manager, Josh Ervin.

These beach access mats will be part of a pilot program, known as Access Rec mats.

"The purpose of this access matting allows folks that may not be able to access the beach due to a disability or due to a temporary problem they may have," explained Ervin.

Made of 100 percent polyester, these mats are designed to allow sand to fall through without it building up and are UV protected to withstand the beating sun.

"So this gives them a flat surface to be able to roll a regular wheelchair down or even a walker or something similar to that," said Ervin.

"So before we came all the way to this area, [we'd] look at the ocean and go back. Now we got promoted. We can go all the way to sand, that we couldn't do before. And maybe in the future, we can go all the way to the water," said Gaby Voiculescu, whose daughter is wheelchair bound.

"It certainly helps with accessibility. We do have some beach access wheelchairs that we do use at some of our beach access locations. This obviously provides people with regular wheelchairs the opportunity to access the beach without having to use the special beach wheelchairs," said Ervin.

With a game plan to stretch them down to the water's edge, Ervin said it's part of the TDC's mission to help everyone enjoy our beautiful beaches.

"So the current configuration calls for approximately 40 feet of access matting going up the walkover. [It] will come down and make a 90-degree turn, go approximately 90 feet to the Gulf of Mexico where it will 'Y' off with two 16 and a half [foot] wings at a 45-degree angle," Ervin described.

"She can go all the way to the ramp and I will be really grateful to see a mat all the way to the water. She's never touched the water and now she will when the times comes," said Voiculescu.

"Right now we are working on getting them permitted through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or issued an exemption for their installation," Ervin explained. "Unfortunately I don't have an exact timeline, but I do hope to have these in place sometime this summer or perhaps in the fall of this year."

"I'm extremely excited, not just for me and my daughter. I think everybody will benefit from this special mat. It will be an unbelievable access to the beach," said an elated Vouculescu.

Ervin said in the event of a storm or any other natural component, the mats are easy to pull up and store until conditions are favorable to bring them back out.